Other Places: Kirchner and Iverson Do The Math

Pianist, composer and member of The Bad Plus, Ethan Iverson is also a prodigious and canny blogger. On his Do The Math blog, he often features extended interviews with prominent musicians. I have never been a fan of transcribed interviews. Too often, they are a boring substitute for writing. Ethan manages to make them interesting, by choosing interesting people to talk with and by raising important questions. His newest entry in the sweepstakes is a conversation with Bill Kirchner, the saxophonist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator, author, editor, broadcaster and occasional Rifftides commenter. In the course of the interview, Ethan draws Bill out on his experiences in each of his areas of expertise and on his opinions. Kirchner delivers anecdotes about other musicians he has encountered, among them Benny Carter.

The first time I met Benny, he did a concert at the Smithsonian in 1978 with Joe Kennedy, Jr., the violin player – who became a very good friend of mine, wonderful player, wonderful human being – and Ray Bryant and Larry Ridley and a drummer who will be unnamed, who was a great drummer but you’ll understand why I’m not naming him. So they were just playing standards, calling tunes, no rehearsal. Benny calls “Perdido,” and they play solos and the drummer takes a drum solo and just keeps going and going, and just going on past his bedtime. So Benny, as I was to discover later on, was Mr. Savoir Faire – an incredibly dignified man and smart as a whip. Also, you didn’t f___ with him. Nobody messed with Benny Carter. So this drummer just kept playing his solo and Benny just let him play and play and play and didn’t bring the tune back in, and eventually the drummer just stopped playing, just kind of petered out, and Benny goes to the microphone and with a totally straight face says: “Well, you know, when you’re playing with so-and-so, there’s just no way to follow him.”

You didn’t mess with Benny.

To read all of the Kirchner-Iverson conversation, go here.

To see what Kirchner is up to, visit his website.

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  1. says

    That’s pure class from Benny.

    I have no idea who that drummer could be, although I’ve got a few guesses.

    I do remember however a London JATP gig in London in the early sixties where Roy Eldridge tried to play a wonderful version of “I Can’t Get Started” with just a rhythm section which included Jo Jones (a drummer who I had always admired). Jones proceeded to completely ruin Roy’s performance with completely inappropriate cymbal crashes and accents that had nothing to do with the music at all. It was “look at me, look at me”. Roy looked embarrassed by it, as I’m sure was most of the audience. I remember my wife asking me at the time, “Why is he doing that, he’s ruining the performance.” Who knows.

  2. says

    What you wrote is certainly one of the negative aspects of JATP, Don: The not too seldom circus atmosphere, the showing-off to the disfavor of music.

    Jazz performances increasingly lost audiences during the 1950’s & ’60’s, and so it’s not further astonishing that musicians began to express their frustration by focussing on their technical skills rather than serving the music.

    As for weird drum solos: I heard about a funny incident, featuring a quite prominent jazz trombonist and drummer ‘Philly’ Joe Jones.

    Once there was this gig, and the trombonist – whose name “escapes” me at this moment – executed one of his super-smooth ballad choruses which must have obviously bored ‘Philly’ Joe. Right after the trombonist had finished his speech, ‘Philly’ started to “talk”, and played a 15-minute drum solo, kinda filibuster, first on his kit, then also on the chairs, the walls and ceiling of the (German?) jazz joint.

    And the trombonist? Instead of cheering ‘Philly’ for his artistic efforts, he packed his bags, went directly to the club owner, demanded his fee, got it in cash, and then he walked straight out of the place to his hotel.

    P.S. — That happens sometimes when super-egos collide on stage. ‘Philly’ was musically speaking out loud what the other band members tacitly thought. His response to the lengthy lines of the trombonist was certainly not as gentlemanlike as Benny’s, but the outcome was as wished: No more bone :)